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Frame by frame, step by step: creative success the Jo Roy way

Award-winning director has all her bases covered
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JO ROY Q & A

What’s your favourite book?

My favourite book is As A Man Thinketh by James Allen. It’s only around 30 pages long but it really drives home how maintaining an optimistic outlook affects one’s actions, which, in turn, affects one’s circumstances. I reread it all the time.

 

What’s your favourite movie?

My favourite movie is, hands down, Mr. Nobody. It weaves together several storylines with beautiful visuals and philosophical commentary throughout. I think it’s an incredible achievement.

 

When you were still a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be either a dancer or a writer. It’s nice that what I do now incorporates both art forms.

 

Do you have any superstitions?

I always wear a jumpsuit on set and eat the same dinner and breakfast beforehand, because it seems to have worked well in the past for my clarity of mind and I don’t want to risk changing it.

 

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

Even though it’s not heavily watched, as an artist, my short film Frost felt like it expressed a lot of my feelings about life, and I’m interested to see if I ever make another film that means quite as much to me.

 

Beatles or Rolling Stones?

The Beatles. I had the pleasure of seeing Paul McCartney in concert, and that moment transformed my understanding of their music. I was able to see how The Beatles created a culture and way of thinking that affected their entire generation.

At 28, Jo Roy already has all her bases covered. In the highly unlikely event that being an exciting, creative, award-winning director somehow doesn’t work out, she’s always got her dancing to fall back on.

In many ways, the two are tied together: her acclaimed video projects certainly have strong dance elements. Actually, when she was 18 and first moved to North Hollywood – “the mecca of commercial dance,” she says – she found herself in the right place for the starting point of her other career path.

“Right across from my apartment building, there was this empty lot and that was in between me and the premier studio at the time called the Millennium Dance Complex. I always had to walk through (the lot) to get there ... and then they actually ended up building a film school, literally in that lot. Really convenient. Then it made sense,” she began.

“I made friends with the security guard there and he would just give me tours at night. One day, I just thought, ‘Well, whatever, I'm pretty interested in film. Dance classes rarely start before noon. Why don't I just get a degree?’ It's just something that was interesting and compelling and just might help me so I just started going to school in the mornings.”

That seems to have worked out pretty well so far.

Roy, who grew up in St. Albert taking classes at the Art of Dance, now has a directing résumé that’s getting hotter by the minute. Along with taking a Bronze Lion at this year’s Cannes International Festival of Creativity for a Sprite ad at the end of June, she’s also on heavy rotation with an astounding music video that speaks as much to the creativity and talent behind the camera as it does to the unbridled enthusiasm that can only come with 2,130 elementary school children right behind you.

Massive school project

She was at the helm for Meg Myers’ version of the Kate Bush classic, Running Up That Hill. It was released right after her Lion prize but the timing went well back in time in terms of planning.

“It was three months solid of work. From the moment it started, my head was down. I was just going. It combines so many different things. It was very ambitious. It was not a big budget. It should have – in a lot of ways – been impossible,” she offered.

The video does come with a warning for viewers with photosensitive epilepsy. It has a flashy, stop motion effect that might take a second or two for even the most rigorous eyes to adjust to. That’s for a good reason: each frame of the nearly five-minute-long music video was a colouring page filled in by a student from some California schools and more than a handful from St. Albert. Elementary in concept and design? Maybe. Meticulous and painstaking in execution? Absolutely. Kate Bush would likely approve.

It’s an invigorating watch. The story of its creation involves a makeup artist, costume designer, VFX team, green screen, graphic arts, an overworked scanner and probably a metric ton of crayons, plus a former Disney animator and probably a few bottles of wine at least. Jo Roy said the amount of effort that went into the project was simply “beyond” – just in case there was any doubt.

Ironically, one of the biggest stumbling blocks was that it proved tough to co-ordinate a few thousand schoolchildren in Los Angeles where there are four million people who reside in the city proper. When L.A. can’t provide, Roy said, best take the request home to ‘S.A.’

She enlisted the artistic assistance of hundreds upon hundreds of kids from Albert Lacombe, Elmer S. Gish, Keenooshayo, Ecole Marie Poburan, Neil M. Ross and Vital Grandin schools, plus a bunch of kids from the St. Albert Daycare Society for the video. In true supportive parenting prowess, Dan and Dawne Roy are also credited for being both Crayon Sorters and Page Sorters on the project.

“I kept saying to my people on my team who were like, ‘You're not going to get a couple thousand kids ... there's no chance.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, but you don't know my hometown,' ” she laughed. “I had no question in my mind that St. Albert specifically, and Edmonton, would come through. It's an artistic city.”

“I just really wouldn't have been able to do it without St. Albert. It was just really meaningful to be able to come back and do something that no one thought was possible. When everyone realized that it was actually done ... they were just blown away.”

Commercial success

Running Up That Hill comes fast on the heels of her success with I Love You, Hater, a Sprite commercial with a positive, affirming message of just being yourself. It features a pole dancer performing his routine while a voiceover unleashes a litany of negative comments. The troll loses at the end of the 90-second ad as the dancer finishes and walks to the side, shrugging off the vile diatribe as meaningless to him.

The prestige piece played globally and ended up with a Bronze Lion award from this year’s Cannes Festival of Creativity, the world’s premiere commercial advertisement award festival. She got that job because of the success over another project she directed called Stephen Fry Hates Dancing, which has a similar design. It received a ton of support from Nowness, an international website that celebrates creative excellence in storytelling. Yes, that really is Stephen Fry doing the voiceover about how he really hates dancing, and yes, that really is Jo Roy once again proving how her proficient and fun dance steps on camera are on par with her directorial talent behind the camera.

“It was really amazing. A lot of times when you're doing commercials, first of all, it's extremely competitive. Second of all, you really don't as a director have a lot of control most of the time over even the creative of it, so you end up doing a lot of things likely that are just more and more to sell a product and not necessarily for the point of art. To have had my very first commercial that I ever had with my own base of my own creative where I had so much control and for the purpose of submitting to a commercial competition was really unbelievable,” she said.

You can view all of these works and more on her website at www.joroy.ca. What you won’t find there are samples of her early acting work in That’s Fashionz! or Darth Vader: A Love Story. Or check out Panic! At the Disco’s video for Don't Threaten Me with a Good Time to get a better sense of her solid background in choreography.

The next frame

She’s always pitching on new projects and has all kinds of new creative opportunities landing at her dancing feet while she continues to take commercial work and look for representation. Her sights are always set high.

“Right now, I'm just ready to take the next step and get to the next level and just start looking at representation worldwide, and ... just be able to pursue more commercials and bigger budget music videos and whatnot.”

While all of those plans crystallize, she will always have her dancing, something she likens to a powerful spiritual force for her. A pure dance career didn’t arise because of all of those unknowable factors that exist in the world of entertainment. Things didn't go the direction she expected but she knows that who she is a direct result of being in such an intense environment and at such a young age.

The analogy, of course, is the pressure under which a carbon deposit becomes a “diamond. When we face the obstacles on our paths to our greater selves with courage and grace, we become our own heroes and discover the depth of our character. There is dignity in the will to move forward,” she stated.

Maybe her career as a director is really just an extension of her dancing. It’s not just because dance is such a strong element in her video work; her video work, she says, is a dance in and of itself.

“It's something that really is an energy source for me. It's entwined in everything I direct. The thing about music video directing specifically but directing in general is so much of what I learned as a dancer about body language and rhythm, and shapes and being able to read intention by people's movement, and being able to communicate. These are all things that are so important in directing that I honestly find it very difficult to comprehend, like directing without being a choreographer no matter what, even in an action movie or anything like that. For me, it's interesting to note that the dance and the choreography and all those things, that I still continue on, in my own love of it, my own pursuit. Even if I don't dance for 20 years, they'll always be the underlying source of my passion for directing, really.”




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